Recalling Our Example: Christ

Over the last couple weeks, I’ve observed a number of people express their feelings towards others, in a way that can only be described as un-Christ-like. The funny thing is that every one of these individuals claims to be a Christian. Therefore, I decided to remind us all what being a Christian ought to look like.

I’ve been reading the epistles of Paul to the churches at Rome, Corinth, and Galatia, and as I’ve mentioned before, I’m really fascinated by Paul, and I really I love reading his letters. He was such a wonderful writer, and I see so much of my style in the way he wrote. Usually his words have me praising God in agreement and/or laughing because I just get a kick out of his use of sarcasm.

Paul intrigues me because he was a man that grew up in the church. He was incredibly knowledgeable of the Word, and practiced what he preached. He was so firm in his beliefs that when the first Christian believers began sharing the news that Jesus was the Messiah and had raised from the dead, he whole-heartedly believe they were blaspheming and attempted to snuff them out. He thought he was doing the right thing. But on the road to Damascus, his whole world was changed. He came face-to-face with Jesus Himself! The very person whom he had denied! (You can read more of his transformation, beginning in Acts 9.)thCA0DHMHN

His combined knowledge of the Word and his relationship with Christ could have made Paul prideful. However, it had just the opposite effect. Paul recognized that it wasn’t his knowledge of the Word or his actions that saved him, but the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for our sins.

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. (Romans 3:25-27)

Now, Paul wasn’t saying that our faith in Christ trumped the law that God established in the creation of the 10 Commandments, but was making the point that we can’t do anything to save ourselves. Jesus did all the Work!

Therefore, it angers me to see certain individuals (I’ll call them P1) believe that because they’ve lived the “right way” their entire lives (or so they think), look down on those who’ve sinned in the past (I’ll call them P2), even after P2 has accepted Christ as their Lord and savior has been allowing God to transform them day by day! The truth is, as Paul said, we have nothing to boast about, because we didn’t save ourselves! Even if we never broke any of the commandments—which only ONE individual could ever honestly claim—we were still born into sin, because sin is passed on through our father’s bloodline (Romans 5:12)!

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:22-24) [emphasis added]

How dare we believe that we are any better than any other individual, when Christ died for us all!

Okay, so that was just part one, of what I have say (lol). Here’s part number two…Just because we are saved by faith and not by works, does NOT give us the excuse to not follow the law. Jesus Himself said that He didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17)—and He actually had even higher standards (Don’t believe me? Read Matthew 5:21-48)!  And Paul states in Romans that the law is not nullified by our faith, as well (Romans 3:31).

The purpose of the law is to show us our sin, the purpose of Jesus dying on the cross is to save us from that sin, but we’re not supposed to go back to wallowing in our filth one once we’ve been redeemed of it (Romans 6:2)!

    • For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:6-7)
    • Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? (Romans 6:16)
    • But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:22-23)

Furthermore, Jesus and Paul, both explained to us, very clearly, that while we can (attempt to) uphold the law and have an established relationship with God, the greatest commandments aren’t actually explicitly written in the law. And ‘what is that?’ you might ask. L-O-V-E.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

This request that we love, doesn’t nullify our faith or obedience, it enhances it. The fact that God loved us in our sin enough to send His Son to die for us, reveals just how great His love is for us. Our natural response, once we come into the knowledge of Christ and establish a relationship with Him, should be to lavish upon Him with a grateful heart full of love, and obedience.  And the stronger our relationship with Him grows, the more our hearts are transformed by the love of God, then the more our love ought to overflow into the lives of the people around us! (For more on this topic you may want to check out some of my other posts: Multiply: Week 3, Burning One, and All-Embracing Love)

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

A mistake that we often make, is believing that we can have faith in, and love God, without allowing God to penetrate our hearts and make any sort of change in us. Then we go around telling the world that we’re a believer, even though James explicitly states that faith without deeds is dead!

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17)

Basically, James says “we have a group of people, who say they have faith and believe, but where is the proof of their faith”?! He goes on to talk about Abraham who had so much faith in the promises of God that he circumcised  himself and all the male members of his household (he took action!), before he even had evidence that God would accomplish all that He said He would (James 2:21-24; Genesis 17). We must ask ourselves, what do our actions and lifestyle say about what we believe?

Of course, we are also reminded in 1 Corinthians 13, that we can do all sorts of goods things in this life, but if our actions don’t stem from love, then it’s all meaningless. This is why we have to humble ourselves and allow God to change us from the inside out. Because, if we try to do things out of a desire to earn God’s grace, rather than out of love for God and people, then our faith and works are useless.

And lastly, although, He loved all, Jesus really made it a point to reach out to those in the most desperate of circumstances. He reached out to those others ignored: women, children, tax collectors, the sick, the poor, and even those who openly lived in sin. Jesus lived during a time when it was taught by the teachers of the law that those who struggled in lowly circumstances suffered because of sin in either their lives, or the lives of their parents. (Which is funny if you think about it, since practically all of Israel worshiped idols at some point or another.) But, there He was, God-in-the-flesh, meeting sinners right where they were. And what was His response when the Pharisees asked Him about His actions…”It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13).

Mercy. What is mercy? Mercy is showing compassion, kindness, and understanding towards others.

Many believers have fallen into the trap of surrounding themselves with nothing but other believers, much like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. This is not completely wrong. Our closest friends, those we go to for advice, to whom we turn when we’re in need of accountability, prayer, and encouragement should be fellow believers. However, those who need to hear God’s truth don’t ever get to experience the goodness of God’s love unless we tell them and show them! We cannot completely separate ourselves from them. God calls us to shower them with love, compassion, kindness, and to show understanding as we speak Truth into their lives (**Note, that we cannot leave this last part out**).truth_in_love[1]

For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:12-15)

Jesus told us to go into ALL the world and preach the gospel; a command that was issued not to just a few isolated believers, but to all who believe; so that we might reach men and women from every nation, every background, and from every circumstance, showing no partiality (Mark 16:15; James 2:1-9).

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Correction

Wow! It’s been a while since I wrote anything on here. I’ve been really busy working on my Masters, but now I’m on summer break until August 19. 😀

First off, I’d like to mention how interesting it is that my last post was about being unequally yoked, and my last journal entry–which I was reviewing earlier today–was about the same topic. In 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 Paul told the Corinthians not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. My study Bible says that Paul was most likely referring to the false teachers that were trying to lead the Church members astray; however, I believe Paul was referring to much more than that. Really this can be applied to all our relationships. Unbelieving friends, co-workers, or teachers can encourage us to act/live against what God’s Word asks/expects of us.  Now, it’s not that we aren’t supposed to have unbelievers as friends, but they shouldn’t make up our core group of friends or be those we seek for sound godly advice. Paul reminds us that we’re intended to be separate and holy, “perfecting holiness out of reverence for God;” in other words, we honor God by separating ourselves for His purpose and living according to His commands.

Paul then goes on to ask the question “And what agreement does God’s sanctuary have with idols?” You may be confused by this question, but remember, we previously discussed that WE are God’s sanctuary. His Holy Spirit takes residence within us when we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior. Therefore, God ought to be our focus; our life’s purpose should be to glorify God in all that we do. Unbelievers, however, put themselves at the center of their universe–making themselves an idol–and putting themselves before God. Today one of my Facebook friends 😉 posted a quote by rapper Shai Linne, it stated “It’s called selfism, the fastest growing religion.” I thought this quote pretty much summed up this topic.

Now, for what I really wanted to discuss!! 😀 TODAY, I was reading 2 Corinthians 7:2-16 and I was reminded that man has remained the same since the beginning. Paul was, again, speaking to the church at Corinth. He always had to correct and rebuke the members of the church, which amuses me, because I realize the early Church had just as many problems as today–even some of the same problems! But one of the many reasons I love Paul is that because he loved the Church so much, he was honest and spoke the Truth to them, even when he knew it would hurt their feelings or cause them to be angry with him. He would rather have people be upset for a short while on Earth, rather than spend an eternity in hell, because he’d withheld the truth from them. Paul wanted them to repent and have a heart (and lifestyle) change; his intent was not to hurt them, but to help them.

How often we get angry with those who correct us! Man is still the same today. We hate being corrected. However, usually, those who are correcting us, do so out of love for us. Paul constantly reminded the Corinthians that he loved them and was proud of them. He was so proud of them that he was bragging about them to Titus (2 Corinthians 7:14)! Remember God’s Word says He disciplines/corrects those He loves (Revelations 3:19). However, we often confuse correction for criticism, but there’s a difference between the two. When you hear correction, think “improvement” because correction ought to build you up and make you a better individual, or in this case, a better Christian; but when you hear criticism, think “fault-finding” because this individual is simply trying to tear you down. Therefore, the next time someone corrects us we ought to be “quick to listen and slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19) and remember…”Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise” (Proverbs 19:20).

The Word

As I drove home from work Wednesday multiple thoughts flew across my mind. I thought about God’s Word; the book of Romans; an article I read earlier that day on Louie Giglio & the presidential inauguration; the church & Christianity, in general; and lastly, I thought about Paul. (Yes, I know it’s a lot to think about…this is what happens when I let myself think, smh. Sometimes it gets overwhelming and I have to ask God to just give me a break and quiet my mind.)

Regarding God’s Word, I thought about how blessed we are to have it! Imagine trying to live life without any sort of direction or guidance. (I know many people try to do it, but frankly it’s impossible and leaves one with a meaningless, purposeless, lawless, and selfish existence!) I thought about all our brothers and sisters in Christ, around the world, that are without Bibles, and how they will do anything to just have a few verses or lines of Scripture, even risking their lives to obtain it. And I thought about how we often take God’s word for granted. We are so blessed in America to have the freedom to read God’s Word, but how many of us choose not to!? Then we wonder why we feel so lost and unsure of our beliefs…Love Story Bible

Regarding the book of Romans, I thought about how chock full of information it is! As I study it, questions arise—which I jot down until I get the opportunity to ask someone (preferably a pastor) about them—and I find myself intrigued, amazed, grateful, and passionate about every verse and chapter. The book describes the purpose of the Law, our need for a Savior, the love God has for us (as revealed in the fact that Jesus came to earth in the form of a man to reconcile us to God), and how even though we (Christians) now fall under grace and not the law, we’re still expected to uphold the law and live our new lives—as our old lives passed away with the death of Christ on the cross and our new lives arose with His resurrection (Romans 6:6-7)—glorifying God in everything we do and say. And, I’m only finishing up chapter 8!!

Regarding the article on Louie Giglio & the presidential inauguration, I thought how sad that we live in a country where the minority is slowly influencing what the majority believes, says or does. Free speech has now come to mean “you can believe or say what you want as long as it’s the same as what I believe and say.” That’s not free speech! Free speech is that everybody has a right to believe and say what they want (in a respectful way, of course). If you don’t like it, that’s just too bad, because that’s freedom of speech!

Regarding the church and Christianity in general, I thought about how so many of our churches have fallen away from preaching upon certain subject matter, currently inflicting our nation and how anemic “Christians” are running around preaching a message that is not God’s message. We need to stop basing what we believe about God based on our own feelings/thoughts or upon what our pastors are telling us. Instead, we need to open up His Word and read the Bible for ourselves!! (Now you’re seeing how my thoughts have run full circle ;)) And because we have so many churches/pastors not teaching the full gospel, those that do teach the full gospel are criticized because they talk about God’s laws, and nobody wants to hear it! We have to hear about His law and His grace. We can’t learn only about His love because we’re going to find ourselves in trouble when we find ourselves face to face with His just wrath because we didn’t follow His commands which are found in His WORD. On the other hand, we can’t talk only about His law because then we’re facing legalism and the idea that we can earn our into heaven all on our own (which is impossible!). All of His word must be taught, read, studied, learned, understood, and LIVED.

And at this point is where I thought of Paul. I believe the reason God used Paul in the manner that He did was for one major reason. Paul—as Saul—was a major proponent of the law. He knew it inside and out. He studied it. He lived it. He was passionate about it. So much so, that when the early (Christian) believers began preaching that Jesus was the Messiah, Saul accused them of blaspheme and went from town to town having them imprisoned and even stoned/killed. When Saul came face to face with Christ on the road to Damascus, his life was forever changed (hence the name change to Paul). You may be wondering, “I still don’t understand, why Paul?” Paul was a murderer—he gave approval to the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr—and there was absolutely no way that he would ever be able to “make it up” to God. Jesus’s grace was the only way to have his relationship with God restored. Paul understood God’s grace as well as His justice.

Whether we’ve failed a little or failed a lot, we’re all in the same boat. God’s word says we’ve all fallen short of the glory of God and not one of us is perfect/righteous/ in right standing with God (Romans 3:10, 23). But that doesn’t mean we ignore God’s law because we can’t live up to it or change it so that it’s easier for us to live by. Nor does that mean that we ignore the fact that God loves us all the same and wants all to come to repentance, and turn our back to those we think are “undeserving” or “too sinful.” For God’s word also says that His grace can cover it all and His grace has no limit (Romans 5:20)!

I’ve said it before and I’m going to say it again, we really must teach truth in love. Even then, we need to remember that the truth often stings, and we, therefore, must be prepared for backlash, and keep in mind what Jesus said about the world hating His disciples because we bring the message of hope to a dying world and bright light to a darkened room (John 17:14, 3:19; 8:12).

Live in the Word. Breathe in the Word. Allow it to transform the way you view the world and the people around you. Let it transform you: your reactions, your actions, your words, your life! You cannot survive on 1 or 2 pieces of cake each week (I call it cake because it gives you a momentary “spiritual” high); you need your daily bread, your meat, your living water!

Perfect Storm

While finishing up the book of Acts today–chapters 27-28–I read about Paul being sent to Rome as a prisoner. Paul’s entire story amazes me and once I find the time, I really want to study more about his life; but in these two, final chapters of Acts, that which impresses me most, is Paul’s ability to remain calm while sailing through a hurricane.

After reading it, I sat here wondering to myself, “If God wanted Paul to go to Rome (which He did, according to Acts 23:11), then why did He allow a hurricane to delay his arrival and put 276 passengers at risk?” A few different answers came to mind…

First, just because God calls us to do something or go somewhere, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be easy to do. Sometimes there are obstacles and/or battles that we must face before we can move forward. And storms, such as these, prepare us for even bigger storms/obstacles that we might face in the future. Therefore, we must persevere and allow the storms of life to strengthen and mature us; otherwise we’ll never be strong/mature enough to handle the greater things God throws our way!

Second, sometimes we go through storms as a test of faith. Paul passed this test with flying colors! He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was going to bring him through this storm safely, so he didn’t let it freak him out! He was actually the one trying to calm down the rest of the crew and forcing them to eat, since they’d been so worried about their predicament that they hadn’t really eaten in two weeks (Acts 27: 33-34).

Third, sometimes we go through storms for the sake of the people around us. Paul’s reaction to this storm greatly impressed the people around him. They saw that Paul had great faith in God, that he could foretell things that would happen next, and they were encouraged by him. They were taking Paul’s advice by the end of their journey!

I wish I had Paul’s faith! Even though I know that God is in control, I know I’d be anxious if I were facing Paul’s storm. Facing the storms of life are no easy task. Most of the time, the people around you can’t see what you’re facing, and you feel alone, scared, lost, ashamed, or sad. I faced my own reoccurring storm recently (that’s why there was such a gap between my posts) and the winds continue to blow harder and the waves keep getting bigger, with each storm; but I keep moving forward; I keep persevering. I KNOW what God’s word says, even though I feel differently during these times; but, I know that feelings can be deceiving, so I stay grounded in His promises. Lastly, I know that because the storms keep getting bigger and meaner, I’m growing and maturing in the way God intends; which, can only mean that He has something big planned for me. So please keep me in your prayers and I’ll keep you in mine.

Take care and God bless!

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

Justified by Faith

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it! (Romans 6:1-2)

This verse has been running through my head for the last few days. I’m afraid to say this, but the truth is many “believers” are under the assumption that as long as you believe in God and His son Jesus, that you can go on living life just like the rest of the world and still be saved. But that’s not what God’s word says! The Bible says, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe–and tremble! (James 2:19).” (And believe me when I say, the demons are not going to be worshiping with us in heaven.)

As Paul wrote to the church in Rome, our lives become new when we accept Christ into our hearts–the old, sinful man dies–which means our words and actions should be transformed–or made new/alive–into the image of Christ (Romans 6:4). This is not something that occurs overnight, but as we study our Bibles and establish communication with God through prayer and worship, and allow the Holy Spirit to lead and prompt us, change most definitely occurs; and when that change occurs, the whole world can see it!

Obviously, our generation is not the first to struggle with this “I’m a believer but I don’t fellowship with other believers, read my Bible, pray, or worship God” mentality, since Paul was writing to the early church about similar things. But we have something that the early church didn’t: the Bible! I thank God for it every time I read it, because through it, God left us instructions and insight into the workings of His mind–and although, we’ll NEVER fully understand Him (Isaiah 55:8 says, “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord.”)–I’ll take every scrap of insight and understanding that I can get!

By now you’re probably saying to yourself, but God’s word says we’re “justified by faith,” and you’re right, we are justified by faith. There’s nothing that we could do on our own to earn salvation; that’s a gift that God offers us freely. However, if we truly believe that Jesus offered His life for us on the cross and took all our sins upon His own perfect shoulders, will we continue living life as we please, regardless of His sacrifice? I tweeted once before, that “calling yourself a Christian and then living in sin, is like calling yourself a husband and then beating on your spouse.” The truth is, we claim to be believers, and claim to love Christ, but with every sinful deed, we spit in Jesus’ face, then beat and curse Him. Our actions and lifestyle are not one of thanksgiving and adoration for the one who saves us from Hell. If we truly love Him, we’ll lift our lives to Him as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1); we’ll pour our love out upon Him, and be obedient to Him, for His word says, “If you love Me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

It’s not easy. I used to live the life of the party-goer every Friday and Saturday, and the “repentant Christian” every Sunday. I knew I was living for myself, and I knew it grieved God; but I kept apologizing and making excuses. Have you ever seen an abusive relationship (in real life, or portrayed in the movies)? The man beats the girlfriend/wife, then turns around and apologizes, the wife believes him, and then the cycle repeats. I was the abusive man. Was I truly sorry? Considering the fact that I turned around and repeated my actions, I don’t believe I was. True repentance comes from godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10), and includes recognizing and repenting of our sin, turning away from the things that aren’t pleasing to God, giving everything over to Him, and  following His lead.

I thank God for second chances at life, and I pray that some day soon, you too, will receive the precious gift He offers, with a truly thankful heart.

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

Judgment

I came across this short statement a while ago, and it was recently brought to mind, so I thought I’d share it with you…

In our politically correct age, we are told that it’s not our right to point fingers and pass judgment on others. However, this is actually a judgment in and of itself, and thus it contradicts the principle that we should not judge others. So when someone tells you that it’s wrong for you to judge, ask, “So then why are you judging me?” Anyone who says Jesus prohibits all judgment in Matthew 7:1 has taken His words out of context. It is a self-righteous, hypocritical judgment that Jesus condemns (Romans 2:1-3). Elsewhere He actually commands His followers to “judge according to righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Paul said Christians are responsible to discern the actions of other Christians (1 Corinthians 5:9-13, 6:2-5). Of course our goal must be correction rather than scorn when we make righteous judgments. We must keep a humble, non-hypocritical spirit when we judge others, but we should never buy into the idea that it is wrong to practice and communicate discernment. (Apologetics Study Bible for Students. (2009). P 1010. Holman Bible Publishers: Nashville, TN.)